Inconsistent defensive effort has plagued the Chicago Bulls since the 2014-15 season, and it continues to rear its head several years later.
Despite Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade combining for 64 points on 23-for-41 shooting, the Bulls had no viable plan in preventing points, allowing the Atlanta Hawks to run away with a 115-107 win.
As they’ve done in all their losses this season, the Bulls would give up 30 or more points in the opening quarter, trailing the Hawks 35-27 after the first. Though they would rally in the second half, closing the gap to 103-101 with under 5 minutes to play in the fourth, the Bulls couldn’t stop the Hawks from going on scoring runs that allowed the lead to periodically balloon.
Having trouble staying in front of Dennis Schröder in pick-and-roll sets and keeping Dwight Howard off the offensive glass, the clinical Hawks were too much to handle for a Bulls defense which had trouble giving anything more than half-hearted attempts.
This "defense" by Rondo is absolutely pathetic. Barely jogs to recover to Schroder pic.twitter.com/TZXjqx7Ei2
— Stephen Noh (@hungarianjordan) November 10, 2016
As bad as the defensive effort was, the Bulls’ inability to secure a rebound on either end of the floor also contributed to the loss. Dominating the rebounding battle in their previous seven games, the Bulls received a taste of their own bruising medicine, being comprehensively beaten 48-30 on the glass. Having entered the game ranking fifth in defensive rebounding percentage, the Bulls couldn’t keep the tenacious Hawks off the offensive glass, allowing 13 offensive rebounds and 20 second chance points.
Chicago also received little help from their bench unit, who were outscored 54-18 by the Hawks reserves. Former Bull Thabo Sefolosha torched his old team, scoring 20 points on nine shots, with the majority of his baskets coming in the Hawks’ first quarter surge.
It also must be said that coach Fred Hoiberg didn't have his best night, either. For whatever reason, after four successive games backing up Robin Lopez, it’s clear that Bobby Portis has now supplanted Cristiano Felicio as the team’s backup center. In itself, this decision doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given Portis remains a poor defender who offers little rim protection, while Felicio has shown flashes as a competent defensive big.
Pairing Portis with Nikola Mirotic, who failed to register a field goal in his 11 minutes of play, also guarantees that the Bulls’ second unit defense will struggle to contain opposing offenses. More importantly, Hoiberg has played Portis in crucial stretches in the fourth period, as he did against the Hawks.
In a Thibsian fashion, Hoiberg also relied heavily on his starting unit. All five starters played 30 minutes or more, which may prove costly given the Bulls are on traveling on a back-to-back.
Hitting the road once more, the Bulls will be looking to bounce back against the Miami Heat tonight at the American Airlines Arena. While a win is important to ensure the Bulls do not fall below a .500 record, it also marks the first time Dwyane Wade has played in the Heat arena as a rival player.